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THINGS OF THE WORLD, 1580 – 1730

Author: Bernard Burgess


We have grown used, in our modern world, to being governed by democratic methods based on well-organised political parties. These processes evolved in Europe and the United States of America and have spread throughout the world as earlier colonial empires have passed into history. It is a system which began during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century and it has been modified and improved during the two centuries since those days.

Monarchs, in earlier times, generally ruled alone assisted by a council of advisers; parliaments were elected on a system of limited suffrage but assemblies were summoned infrequently. Such gatherings were generally called to raise taxation when there was a need for rearmament in time of war.

In Europe, in the seventeenth century, there were two great ruling houses. The Bourbons sat on the throne of France and the Habsburgs were firmly established as monarchs of the Holy Roman Empire and of Spain which had colonies in the Low Countries and possessions in the Americas. The Reformation in Germany had given rise to the protestant movement early in the sixteenth century which some nations had adopted but most Europeans adhered to the Church of Rome. In this way, the Pope was also a powerful force in the politics of the period.

The seventeenth century was a period of almost constant warfare and I have examined a number of individual conflicts in the course of my research. I also looked at the provisions of the treaties which gave details of the terms of settlement and which brought, from to time, welcome periods of peace.

Two periods of war came particularly to my attention:

  • The English Civil Wars (1642-1651)

Experience tells us that warfare is a constant feature of the history of mankind. Often this is a worthy defence of a homeland against the attacks of an invader. Sometimes, however, nations become embroiled in that worst form of conflict, that which is remembered as civil war. In the seventeenth century, such a war broke out in Britain.

Many reasons are given for the onset of this strife but there is little doubt that it was prompted, in the first instance, by the king’s failure to recognise the powers of the parliament. Charles I had succeeded his father in 1625 and, as a believer in the divine right of kings, made little effort to take account of the opinions of representatives of the people in the elected assembly.

Matters came to a head in 1631 when there was a need to raise taxes for the construction of ships to defend the realm. In earlier times, monarchs had possessed the power to invoke Ship Money as a prerogative tax and to impose it without the approval of parliament. It was usually applied to towns and counties in coastal areas where it was seen to defray the costs of shipbuilding and those of defence. Charles, however, needed to raise money on a much wider scale and extended the writ to inland towns and counties as well.

John Hampden, a substantial landowner in Buckinghamshire, refused to pay and was duly prosecuted before twelve judges who found for the King but only by seven votes against five. In due course, the King’s action in applying the tax was ratified by Parliament but by that time the population had begun to divide itself into royalists and parliamentarians according to political and religious persuasions. Broadly, the support for Parliament was found in London, East Anglia and the Midlands; royal support was in the counties of the West Country.

In Poole, it seems clear that the people took umbrage against Ship Money and the town remained a stronghold for the Parliamentarians throughout the conflict despite the presence of strong Royalist elements in the hinterland. Indeed, it was elements from Poole which were a significant force when the defenders of Corfe Castle succumbed to the forces of Parliament.

  • The War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714)

The War of the Spanish Succession, in the first decade of the eighteenth century, was important in preventing the domination of France and Spain in the government of Europe. Carlos II, the last Habsburg king of Spain, died childless in 1700 and his successor was Philip, the grandson of Louis XIV. For Britain and Austria, the prospect of a dynastic union giving rise to a Franco-Spanish power bloc was unacceptable and was a problem that needed urgently to be resolved.

In 1701, the Treaty of The Hague had been concluded between England, Austria, the United Provinces and the Holy Roman Empire against France and in 1704 Marlborough’s victory at Blenheim was the first of a series of defeats inflicted by this alliance on the army of Louis XIV. Kaspar, in Robert Southey’s poem about the battle, was unsure about its causes but he was certain that it had been ‘a famous victory’. Indeed it was.

This feat of arms was followed at intervals in subsequent years by similar victories at Ramillies and Oudenarde culminating, in 1709, with a final showdown at Malplaquet. In this way, and at a cost of more than 50,000 casualties among the fighting men engaged, were the forces of France rendered powerless and the protagonists brought to the conference table. These discussions took place at Utrecht and gave rise to the so-called Peace of Utrecht in 1713.

The Treaty was signed in April 1713 and there can be no doubt that there was a general rejoicing as peace was restored. In July of that year a service of thanksgiving took place in the newly-completed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; George Frederick Handel, recently settled in London after leaving his earlier appointment in Hanover, had, at the request of Queen Anne, composed a ‘Te Deum’ which formed the centrepiece of this celebration.

Among the agreements made at this conference, there were specific provisions about Newfoundland, a bone of contention between Britain and France, which now became exclusively British.  French fishermen were permitted only to gather their catches in the waters to the north of the island, a prohibition which lingered on until 1904.  There seems to be no record of celebrations in Poole in 1713 but these tidings must have been welcome news for those who hoped to prosper from their annual voyages to the fisheries.

Other wars and disturbances

Most of the period of this project, from 1580 through to 1730, was marked by war or disturbances in diplomatic relations, not always involving England, but of some consequence to Britain’s interests.

There were long periods when European eyes were focused closer to home because of some of these events, albeit also a time of exploration of the new world and the Pacific, and early colonisations.

In addition to the English Civil Wars and the War of the Spanish Succession discussed above, four other periods of disturbance are worthy of note:

  • Spain (1585-1604)

The latter years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth saw England in a prolonged war

with Spain. Philip II who was ruler of Spain from 1556 to 1598 saw himself as the Catholic monarch who stood against Protestantism arising from the Reformation. Queen Elizabeth’s father had declared himself Head of the Church of England and his daughter had restored this statute when she succeeded her half-sister Mary in 1558. For this affront, Elizabeth had been excommunicated by Pope Pius V in1570.

There was no formal declaration of war against Spain but English privateers preyed on Spanish ships as they carried home treasure from colonies in South America and the Caribbean.

In England, there was the prolonged complication caused by Mary, Queen of Scots who had been imprisoned since 1568. Charges of treason were brought against her and she was beheaded in 1587. Philip II, whom she had named as her heir, was outraged and mounted an invasion to seize the English throne.

In the early summer of 1588, the Armada set sail for the Spanish Netherlands with the aim of embarking troops who would mount an invasion on the English shore. It is well known that Sir Francis Drake and his heroic seamen chased the Spanish fleet up the English Channel, inflicted defeat at the Battle of Gravelines and hounded the survivors through the North Sea and around Scotland and Ireland back to their homeland.

Drake was a Devon man as were his men from Plymouth. As the warning beacons were burning along the south coast, the citizens of Poole must have been aware of the sea battle taking place in their home waters. Indeed, there is a record of ammunition being carried from Poole to replenish the magazine of the warship Anne Royal.

Elizabeth died in 1603 and was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. Philip II had died in 1598 and had been succeeded by Philip III. In the hearts of both new monarchs there was a desire for peace. Accordingly, there was a conference at Somerset House which gave rise to the Treaty of London in 1604. This agreement restored harmony between the former enemies and brought the hostilities of the so-called Anglo-Spanish War to an end. It also led to a dearth of Navy roles for many sailors who were laid off and found work hard to come by.

  • France (1627-1629)

James I died in 1625 and was succeeded by his only surviving son who became King Charles I. Charles demonstrated very quickly that he believed strongly in the divine right of kings and that he had little patience with the preoccupations of his people as expressed by their elected members of parliament.

Early in his reign, expeditionary forces were sent to Western France in support of Huguenots who were Protestants in armed revolt against King Louis XIII. Both campaigns ended in defeat for the English. Briefly, therefore, in 1627 and 1628 there was a local war between England and France which may be seen as a sideshow of the Thirty Years War which was waged elsewhere in Europe, for similar reasons of religion, from 1618 until 1648.

In 1629, Charles I and Louis XIII gave assent to the Treaty of Suza which brought this Anglo-French War to a close. The treaty has significance because it alludes specifically to colonial possessions in North America. These lands are referred to, perhaps for the first time in such a diplomatic exchange, as New France.

  • The Thirty Years War (1618-1648)

The Peace of Westphalia of 1649, was chiefly drafted to bring to an end the horrors of the ‘Thirty Years’ War’ which had disturbed the large parts of Europe from 1618 to 1648. Armies from Sweden had marched south and fought many bitter battles with the forces of the Holy Roman Empire which matched Lutherans against Catholics.

A lesser condition of this settlement, after the reallocation of lands on the Baltic shore, was an interesting provision for the Bishopric of Osnabruck. There were many such city states in Germany at that time and this small domain was ruled by a prelate who also reigned as a secular prince; the population was equally divided between Catholic and Lutherans. It was agreed, therefore, that upon the death of the Prince-Bishop, being a Catholic, he should be succeeded by a Lutheran who, in turn, should be succeeded by a Catholic and so on alternately.  This was accordingly done and persisted until the bishopric was dissolved by Napoleon in 1803.

The point of interest for students of British history was the passing of the gift of this living to the Electors of Hanover so that when the Catholic incumbent died in 1746 he was succeeded by a Lutheran in the person of Frederick, the infant son of King George III, known to later history as the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’, who went on to enjoy the riches of the city until the day of dissolution.

  • The Monmouth Rebellion & Glorious Revolution (1685 & 1688)

Marking the strong differences of opinion between Catholics and Protestants in those times, these two events were of significance to Poole, its residents and their interests.

The first, sometimes known as the pitchfork revolution began in Dorset with the arrival of the Duke of Monmouth who sailed into Lyme Regis with his small force. They marched to Somerset, attracting more combatants along the way, where the battle of Sedgemoor took place. This west-country revolution led to the deaths and transportation of many as the attempted overthrow of James II failed. The subsequent ‘bloody assizes’, concerning the losing protagonists, were hurriedly carried out in towns across the wider area, by Judge Jeffries, the ‘hanging judge’. Over 300 people were hanged and around 800 were transported. The tarred bodies, or parts of bodies, were displayed in public places throughout the wider area to remind people of the result of disloyalty to the Monarch.

The second incursion saw King William III of Orange land his large invading fleet from Holland, in Brixham in Devon in November 1688 followed by a long march, taking in North Dorset, on route to London. James II went into exile late in 1688, escaping by sea to France and in April 1689 William and Mary, his wife, were made joint Monarchs of England.

At one and the same time these events prevented a future Catholic Monarchy through the Bill of Rights, published in 1689, and introduced the Constitutional Monarchy that has existed in Great Britain ever since.

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